As COVID-19 continues to proliferate, the global economy is taking a major hit. Around the world, businesses are forced to close their doors amid shelter-in-place orders and social distancing mandates. 

They’re also making difficult decisions to make operations as lean as possible.

In many cases, this means reducing employee hours or even conducting layoffs to minimize their workforce and associated overhead. Experts predict that in the United States, the unemployment rate could climb to 32.1%, as 47 million U.S. workers are laid off from work.

What should you do if your job stability is threatened or upended by the statewide at-home orders? While the change can be jarring, there are productive steps you can take during your time off to set yourself up for future success. Read on to learn eight of the top things to prioritize.

1. File for Unemployment

If you’re laid off due to COVID-10, it’s critical to file an unemployment claim as soon as possible.

Normally, the Department of Labor has stringent requirements around the specific circumstances that qualify for unemployment insurance. However, the guidelines have become more flexible in the wake of COVID-19. Now, states are permitted to amend their laws to cover a range of virus-related scenarios, protecting employees who:

  • Cannot come to work after an employer temporarily ceases operations
  • Are quarantined and expected to return to work after the quarantine period is over
  • Leave their current employment due to risk of exposure or infection
  • Leave their current employment to care for a family member

In addition, relief is also available through The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Signed into law on March 27, the CARES Act extends unemployment benefits to self-employed workers, as well as part-time employees, freelancers, independent contractors and others negatively affected by recent mass layoffs. This guide covers the CARES Act in depth.

File your unemployment claim in the state where you worked, following the instructions on the DOL’s CareerOneStop site. Keep in mind that there is an unprecedented number of claims being filed right now, so it could take more than the standard two to three weeks to receive your first deposit.

2. Review Your Emergency Fund

You need to know immediately how you’ll afford your life once you’re out of work. The quickest way to understand your financial stability is to take a look at your accounts. 

Ideally, your emergency fund should have enough money in it to cover three to six months of your living expenses. However, research shows that more than half of American households (53%), don’t have any form of emergency savings.

If you fall into the minority, you’ll be better prepared to weather the storm of a layoff. Accessing your emergency fund wisely will allow you to continue to support yourself and your family, at least for the short term.

If you’re suddenly strapped for cash (and even if you have enough for the time being), now is the time to audit your expenses. Make a list of your essential payments, including your mortgage payment, utilities, rent, and insurance. Then, look for any unnecessary expenses (subscriptions, cable television, take-out, high-priced coffees) that you can cut.

3. Contact Your Service Providers

While you’re out of work, contact all of your service providers and let them know what’s going on. This might include your landlord, mortgage company, utility provider, or your lender.

Many banks, including Citi, are offering assistance to their customers during this time. Some institutions are waiving their usual service fees, allowing penalty-free CD withdrawals, and extending hardship programs for mortgage clients. 

In terms of utilities, ask about any specials or promotions that your provider is running in response to the recent news. For instance, AT&T recently announced that its temporarily suspending broadband usage caps to foster connection and facilitate at-home data use.

It never hurts to ask, so reach out and see what relief you can find. If there are any utilities you consider non-essential, now is the time to cut them or scale them back significantly.

4. Regroup and De-Stress

In the days following a layoff, you might be tempted to jump right back onto the corporate ladder. It can be overwhelming to consider the journey ahead of you as you make connections and look for new work.

All of this stress can do a number on your mental, emotional and physical health. Ultimately, this makes it harder to bounce back.

Recognize the immediate anxiety and panic you’re feeling, and then take a few days for yourself. Regroup, gather your thoughts, and allow yourself to process the full range of emotions you’re feeling. Engage in some light exercise, catch up on reading, and discover a new hobby. 

Giving yourself this time can help you re-enter the job field with a renewed sense of calm and clarity.

5. Fine-Tune Your Resume

When you’re ready to start looking for a new job, don’t forget to go over your resume. Especially if you were in your former position for a significant period, you might not have dusted it off in a while.

Take the time to update the list of your skills, along with your work history. Were you tasked with a new responsibility six months ago? It might not have made it onto your resume, so add it now. 

Then, send this resume out to your network of connections and let them know you’re looking for work. 

As you continue to job hunt, remember that the hiring process will likely look different than you’re used to. Due to social distancing, employers are conducting more phone and interviews than ever before, so brush up on your skills before you apply.

6. Find a Career Counselor

As millions of people stay home, many professionals are looking for ways to translate their services to the virtual realm. This includes career counselors.

You might not be able to visit one in person, but you can connect with a few clicks. These experts are well-versed in the steps you need to take to re-enter the workforce with confidence and success.

A career counselor can perform assessments and aptitude tests to help you discover your true talents, skills, and abilities. These exercises can help you better direct your job search efforts to align with openings you’re most apt to fill.

In addition to pursuing the help of an independent job coach, you can also check with your employer. Sometimes, career guidance services will be included in your severance package as an optional resource.

7. Pursue a Temporary Gig

The spread of COVID-10 might have dealt a massive blow to some industries, but it’s ramping up need in others. Right now, many different sectors are looking for short-term employees who can help them meet demand.

This includes grocery store workers, delivery drivers, warehouse workers, and more. Also, major retail chains including Amazon, Walmart, and Kroger have announced plans to hire hundreds of thousands of new workers in the coming months. 

Even if these aren’t your within your skill set, they are viable income-generating opportunities. Even part-time work can help offset your expenses and make your layoff easier to navigate. Create a list of local companies offering temporary or remote work, and contact their Human Resources department to inquire about any openings.

8. Grow Your Skill Set

Are there training programs and certifications within your industry that you’ve always wanted to pursue? Now is a great time to do so.

Anything industry-relevant that you can learn and add to your resume will benefit you professionally. If you identify any gaps in your skills that need to be filled, head online and see if there is a free or reduced-price educational program available on the subject. From art and biology to chemistry and communication, the range of options is wide and varied.

For instance, Harvard, MIT, and other Ivy-league institutions offer free courses via edX. You can even find tutorials and course material on YouTube! Be creative and take advantage of all of the opportunities at your fingertips that can help you improve your competitive advantage.

Laid Off From Work? Use This Time Wisely

The new normal enforced upon us by COVID-19 has changed the way we all live, work, and interact with one another. For many, that means the typical workday has been turned on its head or even eliminated.

If you’ve been laid off from work due to COVID-19 or any other issue, it’s important to make wise use of this time. While it can feel overwhelming and a little scary, it can also be used for incredible growth.

Take care of the important steps first to help ensure your financial stability. Then, make time for yourself, reach out to others who can help, and take steps to grow personally and professionally. 

Looking for more advice on ways to save money and plan for your financial future as you plan your next move? We’re here to help. Check out our Financial Help Center to learn more about how you can save during these unsettling times.